In the Spotlight
Published: August 14, 2009 (Issue # 1500)
On Sunday, Channel One launched its own version of the British comedy show “The Kumars at 42.” The original show has jokes about an Indian family, while the Russian version chose Armenians as its local amusing ethnic group. And the Armenians aren’t very happy.
The concept of the British show is that a would-be television star can’t get a job, so he decides to film his own chat show at home. Real famous people step through his front door and are accosted by his embarrassing relatives, who are actors performing scripted and improvised jokes.
The show on Channel One is called “Rubik Almighty.” The ad for the show explains that Rubik is a wealthy Armenian who likes to “buy and sell everything” and has decided to pay for his own show on Channel One.
Amazingly, television critic Irina Petrovskaya told Ekho Moskvy that she initially thought that this was for real.
Rubik lives in a huge, tastelessly decorated house with his blonde Russian girlfriend, his middle-aged sister, his sex-mad grandfather and his geeky teenage nephew Gamlet, or Hamlet, a popular boy’s name in Armenia.
The Union of Armenians in Russia on Wednesday published a letter of protest to the director of Channel One, calling the Armenian family “caricatured.”
“The show was announced as a comedy, but what we saw provoked not laughter but a natural storm of indignation among Armenian youth in Russia,” the letter said.
Armenians are traditionally viewed as the funniest people in the Soviet bloc, along with Jewish people. While the idea that an Indian chat show host can’t get his own show in Britain has a satirical edge, it’s hard to argue that there’s any discrimination against Armenians on Russian television — as long as they’re being funny.
Garik Martirosyan appears on current-affairs comedy show “ProjectorParisHilton;” Mikhail Galustyan is the co-star of the sketch show “Nasha Russia;” Tigran Keosayan hosts a late-night discussion show; Yevgeny Petrosyan is the long-running star of “Crooked Mirror,” an old-fashioned variety show; and the “Comedy Club” stand-up show is owned by Armenians.
The star of “Rubik Almighty,” Ruben Dzhaginyan, is well-known in Armenia as a former member of its KVN student comedy team and the head of a big ad agency.
The pilot show was flashy but not very funny. The guests were Dmitry Dibrov, a Channel One host whose grin occasionally slipped off his frozen face, and Anna Semenovich, a figure skater turned pop singer. She looked frightened as the jokes focused on her ample bosom.
The best jokes were about Dibrov’s frequent trips to the registry office —?he recently married two girls, aged 23 and 19 — and a question to vocally challenged sexpot Semenovich: “Is it true that the only way to get into show business is via ice skates?”
Part of the problem is that Russian television doesn’t really have the celebrity chat show format that “The Kumars at 42” was parodying. Reactions to the show were baffled. “What on earth was it?” wrote Chocolita on LiveJournal.
Armenians complained that the show was offensive to their nation.
“I consider ‘Rubik Almighty’ a personal insult,” wrote Slishkomtiho, an Armenian blogger. “Either take [Dzhaginyan] off the air or force him to speak without an accent,” Juber wrote on the Channel One forum.
Rubik spoke with an exaggerated accent, which was presumably fake. All the Armenian stars on television speak Russian without any accent.
What’s more, Rubik is a collection of all the stereotypes about Armenians: He flashes the cash, likes blondes, keeps things in the family, never stops doing business and is irritatingly successful.
Although if I could pick my national stereotypes, I wouldn’t mind those ones.